Love Wins Analysis: Chapter 1: What About the Flat Tire?
[This is part II of a multi-part series on Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins.]
Here is a summary of Chapter 1 for you:
For real. When I began reading Chapter 1, I thought to myself, I’ve read this already. No, I hadn’t. But I’d heard it before through Bell’s video dramatization. (Most of his speech is derived from Chapter 1.)
And so I breeze through Chapter 1 because yes, some of it I’ve heard before but then there are parts that make me wince:
- Renee Altson’s experience of being raped by her father while reciting the Lord’s Prayer and assorted Christian hymns
- The Eastern European Muslim who refuses to set foot in a Christian Church in America because the Christians in his country rounded up all the Muslims and executed them
- The Christians who stand on a busy street corner with signs, screaming into bullhorns about judgment and hell
Bell goes through a list of possible things on how one gets to heaven. Actions? Behaviors? He even picks apart the “personal relationship with Jesus” answer that many Christians offer.
“The problem, however, is that the phrase “personal relationship” is found nowhere in the Bible.”
Bell has me in agreement with him on this issue. So far. Then he has to go and ruin it by saying the following:
“Nowhere in the Hebrew scriptures, nowhere in the New Testament. Jesus never used the phrase. Paul didn’t use it. Nor did John, Peter, James, or the woman who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews.”
Did you see how he ruined it for me?
This is the first I’ve ever heard of a woman authoring any book of the Bible, let alone a New Testament book. Bell ruined his flow (with me) by introducing an unknown, unsourced blip in which I simply had to put the book down and Google “what woman wrote Letter to the Hebrews” since I was always taught that it was likely Paul even though the author’s identity is largely unknown. However, Origen seemed to believe that the only reason the epistle was shrouded in complete anonymity was due to the female author. More modern scholars such as Harnack, Harris, and Peake advanced this theory in the 20th Century. [source: Why Not Women?]
While Priscilla, Paul, or someone else entirely may have written Letter to the Hebrews (personally, I don’t care), I found it oddly distracting for Bell to put that in his book when the Wheaton College graduate probably knows most Christians don’t know trivia like that.
Hence my frustration with the absence of notation or bibliography. I wouldn’t have rapidly put the book down in favor of Google. But again, I digress.
In Chapter 1, about 89 sentences are questions that originate from Bell (as opposed to questions that were quoted). He doesn’t answer all of these. Of course, he certainly doesn’t have to. But his questions raise even more questions in the mind of the reader that aren’t addressed in the book. In Chapter 1, you’ll find the following:
“This belief raises a number of issues…” (p. 4)
“And that risk raises another question…” (p. 4)
“That, of course, raises more questions…” (p. 5)
“This raises even more disconcerting questions…” (p.6)
“Which of course raises the question…” (p. 6)
“Which leads to a far more disturbing question…” (p. 6)
“But it raises another important question…” (p. 7)
“…But that raises another question.” (p. 9)
“This raises another, far more disturbing question…” (p. 9)
“Which raises another question…” (p. 9)
“And that question raises another question.” (p. 11)
I consider Bell to be a rather smart individual so I can only assume he knew he’d be driving his readers nuts by using these phrases
But again, I’m getting ahead of myself because Love Wins is kind of a sloppy joe: there are parts that are really enjoyable and meaty and others that aren’t so yummy and somewhat dismal. And somehow it all gets mixed in together under a topic of current and future destinations. (I am purposely leaving out the word “eternal.” Sorry, it’s a part of the sloppy joe that I’ll get to soon.)
Chapter 1 is set up for Bell, which in my opinion, never gets fully resolved by the last page of Chapter 8. He asks all of these questions which raise other questions that all basically challenge anything that any Christian has ever been taught about heaven, hell, and salvation. Bell challenges:
- How to be elect: luck/chance or works
- Eternal damnation
- God’s supposedly loving character if He in fact does damn people to a place of eternal torment
- Absence of hope after death apart from Christ
- Age of accountability
- The need for salvation to escape eternal damnation
- How this salvation should occur: through a rite, baptism, class, church membership, praying a prayer, a sudden realization
- Whether salvation is an action: things people do or things people are
- Motivation to alleviate suffering in this present world since a future eternity takes precedence
- Which version of Jesus to believe in
Bell ends Chapter 1 with the demons professing faith in Jesus Christ. It is clear that Bell is using this to say “belief in Christ” doesn’t get you to heaven. Pastors use this example all the time to cite that the devils believe and tremble (James 2:19). Bell’s point here is that belief is simply not enough for salvation and either there must be something more or something else. He ends with:
“This isn’t just a book of questions.
It’s a book of responses to these questions.”
Let’s explore Bell’s responses in the next post.